My friend John Morrow was in a bit of a hurry. He had dropped off some keys to his daughter, a nurse at a local nursing home, and then had another stop to make.
As he passed an older man in a wheelchair, the patient asked, “Would you talk to me?”
“I sure will,” said John. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Farming,” the old man answered, without hesitation.
Somewhat taken aback–and suddenly aware that this conversation might last a while–John, a caring man, assured the old gentleman that he certainly would talk with him about farming, but that he was rushed at the moment and would be back.
A few days later, before John returned, his daughter told him that the old man had died. His mind was still good, she said, but in all the time he had been in the nursing home, she knew of no one who had come to visit and listen to the stories he wanted to share about farming.
John was deeply saddened. He truly had intended to get back, but did not realize that the old man’s life would end so soon. On reflection, he recently told his Sunday school class, whatever he had to do that day could have waited.
Many of us may relate to John’s story on some level, perhaps in the memory of a patient we have passed in a nursing home hallway while visiting a friend or relative, someone who offered a hopeful hello and a timid smile as we were leaving.
The face you remember might be that of an old veteran who had no family left, or of a mother whose children never came to visit, or of someone who had simply outlived everyone they knew. One woman I remember had been a writer for Collier’s magazine during its glory years. I meant to return for an interview, but never got back.
I recalled, too, a lonely old gentleman who passed the time each day counting cars on the Norfolk Southern trains that rumbled past on the railroad near the nursing home. He had a click counter, and had carefully recorded each day’s totals in a writing tablet.
Almost everyone has a story. One man who was nearing 100 had forgotten nearly everything, but his eyes brightened and a smile spread across his face when he shared sweet memories of the smartest dog he ever owned.
As I ponder my friend John’s story and my own regrets, in the rush of last-minute shopping for gifts, it occurs to me that if we really want to do something nice for someone this Christmas, there must still be many residents of nearby nursing homes waiting for someone who wants to hear their stories.
It just may be that if we take time to listen, our most memorable gift this Christmas will be theirs.